Sunday, December 03, 2023

Tom Bright plus Open Mic at Penrith Players Theatre

Penrith, Cumbria. Sunday, 03-December- 2023.

On advice from our fellow WASP wine tasters we decided at fairly short notice to go to Plug and Play's event which was an open mic session with a random selection of performers, followed by an interval and the main act, singer-songwriter Tom Bright. Never heard of him, but he's now on his third album so he must be doing alright.

The last time we went to Plug and Play it was in the main auditorium. This night it was in the bar area -  much cosier. There was a small stage where each of the performers got to do one, two or three songs based on some criteria that was not apparent.

The line-up, insofar as I managed to catch their names (apologies for any errors) was:

  • Steve and Ben - a guitar and saxophone duo, making use of a loop pedal to augment the sound. I was impressed by the sax player's smooth tones. We especially liked their last song which was “Rich Folks Hoax” by Rodriguez. 
  • Folkie guy - Didn't catch his name. He sang a couple of his own compositions.
  • Alan Green - cannot recall what he sang.
  • Mike & Kate aka Bramble & Briar - another duo playing guitar and, what I think must be, an electric mandolin.
  • Ed Draycott - Played a mixture of original compositions and covers of Donovan's Catch the Wind 
  • Lyndsey Guest - she played a cover “for an easy win”, one of her own compositions and a cheesy Christmas number, “Santa Baby”.
  • Phil Saunders - I was impressed by this man, he played some serious blues guitar.
  • Solo guitarist - another singer songwriter played a couple of his own compositions, pleasant enough.
  • Jon Bowie - he played some serious guitar, Mary was especially impressed.

The main act was Tom Bright, another singer-songwriter with a line in social commentary and autobiographical content verging on poetry set to music. We bought his latest album as we often do for many musicians. Merchandising sales at gigs is a major source of income. Certainly, they get almost nothing from streaming services unless they are stadium filling artists.

A excellent evening of live music. Then home for a nightcap and bed. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Wine tasting New and Premium South African wines

WASP (Wine Appreciation Society, Penrith), Roundthorn Country House Hotel, Penrith. Thursday 30-November-2023.

It was fascinating to discover a new region of South African wines that we were previously unacquainted with, entertainingly presented by Preet Sahota of Edgmond Wines.

Our first ever trip to South Africa in 2008 was a safari, followed by a tour of the wine growing districts: Hermanus and Walker Bay, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Robertson and Constantia. They are all east of Cape Town out along the N2. 

These wines are from the Swartland region north of Cape Town out on the N7. The tasting was a rainbow assortment of all the main varieties produced in South Africa. 

Just as interesting as the wines was the presenter himself and the story of how he got into wines from working in his parents' village shop to discovering a passion for wine while at school, then specifically South Africa while at college and then starting his own business.

Wine, Grape variety, Vintage, ABV, Normal list price.
Preet's description
    • Mary's notes and ✱ star rating

1. Villa Esposto Sauvignon Blanc 2022 13% £24.95 
A debut release - From the renowned Skurfberg farm and planted in 1993 comes this delicious Sauvignon Blanc
    • Green, tangy, powerful; smooth, slightly oily, good body, good depth, balanced.

2. Blake Family Wines Chenin Blanc 2021 12.5% £14.95 
From a single vineyard planted in 1984, this is a complex old vine Chenin from the Swartland region
    • Floral, powerful, oily, slightly yeasty?; bit sharp, not as rich as nose, not very fruity. 

3. Villa Esposto Chenin Blanc 2022 12.5% £24.95 
From a single vineyard planted in 1982, this is a complex old vine Chenin from the Skurfberg
    • Light nose, closed, slightly spicy; more complex, richer, well, balanced, tropical fruit? Good length.

4. Blake Family Wines Malbec 2020  14% £14.95 
A real rarity to find a single vineyard Malbec from South Africa!
    • Light nose, closed, slightly spicy; more complex, richer, well, balanced, tropical fruit? Good length.

5. Villa Esposto Pinotage 2018 13.5% £24.95 
A one off parcel - From a single vineyard planted in 1998, this wine once again from the famed Skurfberg region
    • Light perfume, violets?; Soft velvety, soft tannins, good length.

6. Klawer Shiraz 2021 14.5% £11.95 
From the outstanding 2021 vintage and from four different farms - average age of vine 20 years 
    • Soft, sweet, slight peppery, vegetal; soft, fruity, ripe fruit, light.

7. Blake Amethyst Cape red blend 2018 15% £27.95 
A Cape Blend of the noble cultivars, Shiraz, Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Good nose, slight jammy, good soft fruit, soft tannins.

8. Villa Esposto Muscat d'Alexandrie 2021 8% £24.95 
A delicious sweet wine from a single vineyard planted in 1969 - the oldest vineyard I work with!
    • Toffee, raisins: sweet, yummy, raisiny, some acidity.

We bring our own glasses (or borrow from the hotel if forgotten). There is a spittoon for discarding unwanted wines but at 50cc per tasting measure I have no problem polishing them off. I was amused to note that the spittoons are actually plastic buckets with the handles removed - but hey! it that works why not?

This time we made an effort to be a little earlier so we could buy some raffle tickets and we won a bottle of wine (what else). 

As usual we abandoned the car and I had a chilly walk up in sub-zero temperatures to retrieve the car the morning after.

PS. Other wine tastings in South Africa:

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Uncle Ralph - Paper-hanger

As previously blogged, Ralph lost his right arm just above the elbow in an industrial accident. Interior decorator was not the obvious career switch for a man under those circumstances but so he chose. It turned out to be a felicitous decision.

He lived in Queen's Club Gardens, Baron's Court, London as did most of his clients. The estate was built in the late 19th century when an entrepreneurial developer, William Gibbs acquired the land for his most ambitious project comprising 33 blocks with 548 flats, 3 staff flats and an office set around central communal gardens and two tennis courts, inspired by the new Queen's Sports Club which had opened in the 1880s. [1]. 

Ralph was never out of work. With that many flats word of mouth recommendation meant that it was like decorating the Forth Bridge; there was always another flat queuing up for his services.

I had to ask how he hung wallpaper. Apparently he pasted the paper, concertinaed it, balanced it on his head, went up the ladder, head-butted the wall with the end piece, used the stump to hold it in place and his good arm to position the drop as it unfolded.

I called upon Ralph to redecorate a bedroom when I lived in South Wimbledon. My main bedroom had had part of the room stolen to extend the original cupboard-sized bathroom on the landing and make it a decent size. The previous owners who did that also installed a second door from the bedroom so it could be used as an en-suite. 

As a result the false wall was missing coving along the ceiling (this was a late Victorian terraced house). I used a local company who specialised in replacement plasterwork to take an impression and extrude a new section to match, then fit. The room then needed re-decorating so I called in Ralph. 

He did an excellent job then performed a piece of magic. The new door to the bathroom was a modern flat one unlike all the other original Victorian panel doors. So he stuck four rectangles of beading to the door to fake the impression of panels. A simple trick but amazingly effective.

He had some t-shirts printed with the legend “One Armed Paper Hanger” one of which I acquired. One time I walked into a pub in Richmond, the barman looked at me and asked, "How is Ralph?"

At one point Ralph was in the running to be a movie extra in a pirate movie. In the days before CGI movie makers relied on practical effects. The proposal was that he would wear a papier-mâché arm filled with fake blood. Then in the fight scene his fake arm would be hacked off. Sadly it never came to pass. 

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Wine Tasting - Beaujolais

Bassenthwaite Lake Station, Cumbria. Thursday 02-November-2023.

I have a soft spot for Beaujolais as the first wine I ever remember knowing by name was Moulin a Vent (1975), see My Life In ... Wine. We don't drink a lot of Beaujolais but every now and again think "Ooh yes, we must buy some" and always enjoy them when we do. I was very much looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with this AOC.

The tasting was mostly in pairs which works for me. I like a compare-and-contrast tasting.

No. Name of wine. Shop or Supplier Retail Price Country ABV Vintage ✱ Mary's star rating

1 Coup de tete Chardonnay Majestic £8 France 13% 2020 
Light nose, unoaked, not very fruity, good acidity. Not a Beaujolais but a rare example of a white wine from the Beaujolais region.

2 Chassaux Gamay Aldi £6 France 13% 2022.
Light, but typical Gamay nose; soft, ripe red fruit, tannic. From the Ventoux region but made from the classic Beaujolais grape.

3 Chassaux et Fils Fleurie Aldi £9 France 13.5% 2022
Light, violets; tannic, not much fruit.

4 Domaine Pardon Fleurie Lakeland Vintners £22 France 13% 2022 
Fuller nose, plummy; smooth, tannic, bit closed; too young?

5 Chateau de Pierraux Brouilly Sainsbury's £14 France 13% 2021 
Slight green note; full bodied and flavourful, black fruit, some tannins and length. 

6 Henry Fessy Brouilly Lakeland Vintners £22 France 13.5% 2019 
Deeper more enticing nose; smooth, silky, lovely soft fruit flavours.

7 Chateau de Pizay Morgon Majestic £14 France 13.5% 2022 
Lovely nose, plummy, faint violets; smooth, yummy, deep dark fruits, good tannins and acidity.

8 Les 3 Madones Beaujolais Villages Majestic £7 France Villages 12.5% 2021 
Good nose; soft, plums, blackberry, tannic, medium body.

9 Moillard-Thomas Beaujolais Villages Majestic £12 France 12.5% 2021 
Typical Gamay nose; soft, fruity, easy drinking.

10 Raoul Clerget Beaujolais Majestic £11 France 13% 
Light nose, bright and juicy, classic entry level Beaujolais.

11 Les Iris Beaujolais Booths £11 France 12% 2021
Light nose, fresh-ish, aromatic, short.

12 Beaujolais Superieur Sainsbury's £11 France 12.5% 2021.
Lightish nose, smooth, light fruit, but tannic.

I would take issue with the sequencing. Normally wines are presented in order of price, quality, power or whatever if appropriate so that each wine is not shown at a disadvantage compare to the proceeding wine(s). You might expect the order to be Beaujolais, Beaujolais Superieur, Beaujolais Villages and then the Cru such as Fleurie, Brouilly and Morgan. In this tasting, the Cru wines were in the middle to the disservice of the perfectly serviceable wines following.

Another interesting tasting organised Simon and Diana. Some people are reluctant to shout out their thoughts on the wines so I like the way they solicited feedback by walking round the tables and then summarising for the assembled company. 

As previously we had booked a room at The Pheasant Inn just 5 minutes walk away; a wise move. 

P.S. We made a trip to Majestic in Carlisle a couple of days later to buy some of the Raoul Clerget Beaujolais and the Chateau de Pizay Morgon.  

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Uncle Ralph - 364 Day Marriage

The true story of Ralph's short-lived marriage.

My earliest memory was of him living in a basement flat at 16 Philbeach Gardens in Earl's Court (aka Kangaroo Valley on account of the number of Aussies who lived there). He lived with his girlfriend, Irene, "in sin" as it was described in those days. Very exciting and risqué for someone like me growing up in the very conventional milieu of middle England in the ‘70s.

They subsequently moved upmarket to a 2-bedroom flat at 28 Gainsborough Mansions, Queen’s Club Gardens in Barons Court where Irene’s mother tried to bribe them into marriage with the offer of a three piece suite as a wedding gift! No dice. Eventually Irene gave up waiting and left for Colorado where her sister and mother had relocated some years previously.

Ralph continued to talk to Irene by phone usually on a Friday night after an evening down the Colton Arms. One particularly inebriated evening he suggested they get married. Next day he got a call from Irene to say the date was fixed and he was to present himself at her home in Colorado on such-and-such a date which he duly did.

Apparently the sister and mother both wanted to have the preacher conduct the service in their respective front parlours and got into a heated debate. Exasperated, Irene rang up the reception venue and asked if they could also host the wedding, “Sure”. And so that is how Ralph ended up marrying in the Colorado Holiday Inn on 18 August 1979 when he was 48 years old. were able to give me the date but wanted me to upgrade my subscription to research the US records hence the redacted detail. I'm not sufficient nosey at this stage to cough up.

Unfortunately for Irene the cheapest flight out to the States was in fact a one-year return deal. As the 12-month deadline approached Ralph wondered how the lads in the Colton Arms were getting on. "Shame to waste the other half of the ticket." So he returned to the UK and never went back!

Irene was not impressed to say the least.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Thirtieth Wedding Anniversary Meal

Penrith, Cumbria. Monday 30-October-2023.

Blimey! Thirty years!! Maybe I'll blog the actual day but for now I'll focus on the celebrations. Started blogging in 2004 so I have info on the last 20 years.

  • 0th (1993). Our honeymoon was in Egypt including a Nile Cruise and a stay at the Old Cataract Hotel, setting for Murder on the Nile.
  • 1st to 9th Anniversaries (1994-2002). We decided not to buy presents but take it in turn to organise mystery weekends away.
    • 1: 1994 - Bath (spa hotel)
    • 2: 1995 - Stratford (RSC production of Romeo & Juliet)
    • 3: 1996 - Matlock Bath (murder mystery weekend)
    • 4: 1997 - Bruges (mussels, fog)
    • 5: 1998 - Bosworth (tanks, trains and battlefields)
    • 6: 1999 - Cotswolds
    • 7: 2000 - London (British Museum, dance at QEH)
    • 8: 2001 - Dublin
    • 9: 2002 - Norfolk (mushroom foray with Peter Jordan)
  • 10th (2003). We did a Nile cruise. We went to Egypt for our honeymoon so that seemed a good way to celebrate 10 years. We visited Cairo which we skipped the previous visit and did the pyramids, the Tutankhamun museum and a second Nile cruise.
    We relaxed the no presents rule. Mary's engagement ring was an antique, hand-cut, half carat diamond solitaire. Some months before I had commissioned our local jewellers to source a pair of the same and had them made into earrings. I presented these to Mary on the cruise. She gave me a copy of  "The Rough Guide to Egypt". Oh how we laughed!
  • 11th (2004). Celebrations nearly cancelled because of the loss of our cat Oscar but in the end went for a Rare and Fine Wine dinner at BBR.
  • 12th (2005). Puglia with Sandra and May (mother-in-law).
  • 13th (2006). Puglia with a meal at Il Convivio in Osunti.
  • 14th (2007). Puglia and a meal at Ti Amo back in London.
  • 15th (2008). A trip to Casablanca.
  • 16th (2009). South Africa: Paarl and Hermanus.
  • 18th (2011). South Africa: Green Point Cottage, Cape Town.
  • 19th (2012). Padstow fish school and the Horne Section at QEH.
  • 20th (2013). Van Morrison at RAH Blues Festival followed by the Orient Express from London to Venice followed by a stay in Venice. Full report. Pretty special that. 
  • 21st (2014). Robert Cray at RAH Blues festival.
  • 22nd (2015). Neither of us can remember! But we were in Italy for the olive harvest.
  • 23rd (2016). Van Morrison and Jeff Beck at RAH Blues Festival.
  • 24th (2017). COYA Peruvian restaurant in Mayfair.
  • 25th (2018). Holbeck Ghyll weekend.
  • 26th (2019). One of Mary's bucket list items: a box at the RAH for Blues at RAH.
  • 27th (2020). Dog and Gun, Skelton.
  • 28th (2021). Winter Droving 2021, La Casita.
  • 29th (2022). Winter Droving 2022, Michelin starred meal at HRiSHi at Gilpin Hotel.
  • 30th (2023). Three weeks Interrail trip across Europe (blog posts to follow), Winter Droving 2023, Private chef meal at home.

All that said we still have a way to go to match my parents 60th. I'l be 100 when that happens!

When we got married we were two households alike in gadgetry. We had no need of electrical appliances or toast racks; our wedding list included luxuries such as bottles of Chateau Lynch Bages 1989 - the year we met. Our friends could buy as few or as many as they chose; we got up to ten so we bought the last two to complete the case. We are working our way gradually through them. By dint of great restraint we had saved the very last bottle for this anniversary!

This was the menu that Lee proposed for us.

Pickled quail, eggs, smoked trout, baby gem, and celeriac salad.

Pork and smoked chicken terrine, home-made piccalilli and sour dough crackers.

Local pheasant breast stuffed with wild boar and damson, olive and caper crushed new potatoes with a wild mushroom jus.

Panfried supreme of hake, spiced puy lentils, home-made lime pickle and pickled samphire.

Passion fruit meringue pie.

Warm, rhubarb and ginger crumble with almond creme Anglaise.

Altogether a splendid meal to round off a weekend of celebrations.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Winter Droving 2023

Penrith, Cumbria. Saturday 28-October-2023.

Winter Droving was one of the reasons we ended up living in Penrith. This is our seventh however we nearly missed it this year because it was our 30th wedding anniversary on the following Monday. Our celebration plan was interrailing for seniors: an extended railway trip from southern Italy back to the UK. The logistical challenge was where to spend our actual anniversary. 

Early plans included at night at the opera at La Scala in Milan, possibly the traditional romantic destination of Paris for a weekend, or ending up in London for a Michelin starred meal. However we realised that many class restaurants close on a Monday and we would struggle to find somewhere for a nice meal wherever we were. Another consideration was the challenge of having to cart posh clothes, shoes, etc. around Europe for three weeks. So we decided to come back for Winter Droving and had the inspiration to hire a private chef for a meal at home and a chance to drink some class wine from our cellar.

We invited my best man and wife, Pete and Amanda, plus Mary's sister and brother-in-law, Sandra and George, to stay for a long weekend to enjoy the festivities. Mary's Matron of Honour and husband were invited but unfortunately not able to make it.

Eden Arts are the brains behind this event and once again have done a great job. The event was up to it's usual standard. 

Mary, Sandra and I did Penrith parkrun at 9:00 then back for a shower and out into the streets where we wandered around looking at the various stalls, a mixture of arts, crafts and edibles. There were lots of street entertainers to keep us amused.

Drum Nation were excellent - Brazilian rhythms with African beats. We stayed and watched them for some time.

Stilt walker by the Musgrave monument.

Lunch was street food. Lots to choose from but unfortunately one of our favourites, the Jamaican stall, was not there this year. I went to Hallsford farm produce whose wares I have eaten in previous years. A generous helping of lamb merguez in a bun with chilly jam. Delicious!

After lunch it was a case of wandering from stage to stage having a bit of a listen to various bands.

The Drovers Cup is always on our watch list, the highlight is the egg throwing competition but the tug of war was fun as well.

As usual there is a giant lantern parade in the evening; parade participants getting ready.

The streets were so packed we could not get out of the pub so we watched the parade from the comfort of Fell Bar.

Fire twirling as it got dark.

We had wisely booked ahead for a meal in Grant's of Castlegate for an excellent post parade supper. We may well have gone back to Fell Bar afterwards for a nightcap but the memory gets a bit hazy.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Wine Tasting - Supermarket or Independent?

WASP (Wine Appreciation Society, Penrith), Roundthorn Country House Hotel, Penrith. Thursday 26-October-2023.

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly a year since we went to a WASP tasting, but that’s what happens when you spend half the year in Italy and the other half with diary clashes which prevented us from attending. It was good to be back.

The topic was “Supermarket or Independent?” The presenter, Nick Shill, was an independent wine merchant, now retired. As well as presenting the wines, throughout the evening he talked us through the very interesting economics of wine. I knew about the contribution of duty, bottling and VAT that impact on the shelf price and how little of the cost of cheaper bottles is actually wine. 

What was less obvious was the effect of including the profit margin in that equation. Supermarkets can afford to sell wine at lower margins (around 10%) because of economies of scale and they have other products around the store that make up for it. If the only thing you sell is wine, then you do not have that luxury so independents tend to work on around 30% margin. Using supermarket margins, you would have to shift an awful lot of bottles to make an independent store economically viable.

The wines were in pairs each having one from a supermarket and one from Corney and Barrow an independent merchant.

Mary’s star rating and notes:

1. Organic Pinot Grigio Terre Siciliane (Lidl) 12% £6.99

  • v.light nose
  • not much flavour, thin

2. Sanziana Pinot Grigio Recas Cremele Romania (Corney and Barrow). 12.5% £9.50 

  • Richer, more full-bodied nose
  • Medium dry, appley, nutty
  • Good acidity, some length

3. Limestone Coast Chardonnay Australia (Aldi) 13.5% £7.49 

  • Minerally on nose
  • Rich, melon, nutty, minerally, ripe
  • Not much acidity

4. Nelson Estate Chardonnay South Africa (Corney and Barrow) 11.5% £19.50 

  • Powerful, oaky, tropical fruit, toffee nose
  • Rich, powerful, toffee, tropical fruit 
  • Good length, good balance
  • Paarl, barrel fermented, natural yeast

5. Il Caretto Sangiovese Puglia Italy (Corney and Barrow) 12% £9.50 

  • Cherry, green notes on the nose
  • Good fruit, balanced
  • Some length

6. Purato Organic Nero D'Avola Sicilia (Premier) 13.5% £9.90 

  • Slight mushroom, plummy
  • Some tannins, fruity, balanced, smooth
  • Good length

7. Belezos Rioja Crianza Spain (Corney and Barrow) ??% £14.30 

  • Deep red fruit, some spice, green notes
  • Powerful flavours, vanilla, fruit,
  • Soft tannins, v. good length
  • 100% Tempranillo

8. Cepa Allegro Rioja Reserva Spain 2017 (Sainsbury's) ??% £9.50 

  • Closed nose,
  • Some fruit (less than above)
  • Light, short

There were winning wines on both sides so no clear answer to the supermarket or independent question. One factor to bear in mind is that independents support small, interesting wine makers who do not have the scale to sell to the larger supermarkets.

At the end of the presentation there is a draw for the raffle. Prize are bottles of wine, no surprise there. We arrived just in time for the start and had no opportunity to buy raffle tickets. I must have a word with the organisers about capturing arrivals as they walk in or giving attendees a chance to buy later, before the draw.

There is a buffet included in the ticket price but we have learned to have a bite to eat before we head out so this is supper part 2.

As previously we drove up with the plan to abandon the car, walk home and retrieve the car the following morning. On this occasion someone on our table was being collected by their husband and so we were able to cadge a lift into town with a couple of very friendly and excitable dogs!

Looking forward to next next month’s tasting - theme to be announced. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Uncle Ralph - One-Armed Adaptations

For Uncle Ralph having only one arm required many adaptations, some simple, others harder or more complex.

Writing: he had to learn to write again using his left hand. It was a little shaky but perfectly legible.

Shoes: laces were out, it was loafers and moccasins or Velcro.

Scissors: you can buy left-handed scissors, right-handed are uncomfortable to use for a leftie. There used to be a fascinating left-handed shop near Regents street, now online only [Anything Left Handed] selling all manner of items. 

A friend of mine bought a left-handed corkscrew there and left it out at parties causing much confusion when people tried to open a bottle and couldn't work out what was happening. 

I used wonder where my left handed scissors came from but just now I realised that it could well have been from Ralph. Left- and right-handed scissors:

Chopping onions: he had a chopping gadget that you put the peeled onion into and banged repeatedly on the top.

Shirt buttons: another re-learn but rarely needed as he lived in t-shirts.

Nelson knife: named after Admiral Lord Nelson, another famous one-armed person. A knife designed for one handed eating. The blade can be used with a rocker action and the pronged end used as a fork. Ralph had a folding one for ease of carrying.

After he died I asked Mum for his as a keepsake.

Pinball wizard: At Ralph’s funeral one of his drinking companions gave a eulogy including a fun fact I had never heard before. Apparently he was partial to a game of pinball on the Gottlieb in the Colton Arms. The first time he went down for a drink following his amputation he went into the pub and looked thoughtfully at the table. Inspiration! He called to the landlord to bring him over a beer crate. He propped his right foot on the crate and proceeded to play with one knee and one arm.

Poker: Ralph used to join in regular Friday night poker sessions after the pub closed. He used to win some, lose some but generally held his own. After the accident he started losing more often. Finally one of the group drunkenly let slip that there was a vein on his stump where they could see his pulse. He may have had a poker face but the raised heart rate gave it away when he had a good hand. He switched from t-shirts to long sleeved shirts tucked in and started winning again!

Paper hanging: that is a whole separate topic...

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Uncle Ralph - Driving

As far as I know Ralph did not not have to re-take his driving test but he would have been required to inform the DVLA of his amputation and get the OK from his doctor.

As mentioned Ralph’s artificial arm had a cup attachment that would fit over a ball fixed to the steering wheel for driving so he did not require a specially adapted car. However as he didn’t bother with the arm he simply held the ball with his left hand and steered that way. He drove a manual so to change gear he steadied the wheel with his stump, changed gear and then swapped back. 

One of my more vivid memories was being in the car with him when he needed to change gear whilst negotiating a corner using the only stump to steer - can I open my eyes now? 

Ralph liked his beer at The Colton Arms in Barons Court. It was perhaps inevitable that he would eventually get done for drink driving. He was three times over the legal limit so the case had to go to court where the allocated solicitor saw the breathalyser report and, with grudging admiration, exclaimed “that is the highest level I have ever seen!”

I never was told the outcome of the court appearance but if it was a first offence and because of the high reading it could have been a lengthy ban. There could have been mitigating circumstances due to being amputee and needing his car for his livelihood. I do believe he learned his lesson. He still drank as much but didn’t combine it with driving. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Uncle Ralph - The Arm

How he lost his arm and what they replaced it with.

It was an icy winter’s day in January 1963 and Ralph slipped on a metal gangway at work. I presume it was on a British Thomson-Houston construction site somewhere in London. He reached out to steady himself and his arm went into an unguarded part of a cement mixing machine. 

The mechanism chewed off his arm which the doctors said saved his life. The ends of the blood vessels were twisted off which helped stem the loss of blood. If it have been a clean slice cut there would have been blood spurting out like a Monty Python skit. 

He apparently walked on in shock until he saw a colleague and only then fainted. Off to hospital for an emergency operation where they tidied up the stump to just above the elbow. 

After his discharge from hospital he was referred to Roehampton where they have a world class prosthetic and amputee rehabilitation centre. His artificial arm was mainly aluminium with a leather cup for the stump and leather straps to hold it to his shoulder. No carbon fibre back then so it was pretty heavy. 

Picture courtesy of Arm Dynamics.

It had two degrees of movement depending on which way he moved the stump. One way would bend or straighten the arm, the other would work an attachment at the end of the arm of which there were several. 

  • plastic hand for formal occasions and the thumb would move for a handshake
  • hook that would open out like two clawed fingers for all sorts of uses
  • pair of pliers for basic DIY
  • cup that would fit over a ball attached to a car steering wheel for driving

It was heavy and cumbersome so he only wore it on formal occasions. The rest of the time he tucked up his sleeve and adapted to a one-armed life.

Those one adaptations are a separate topic...

Footnote*: Roehampton operated a shoe sharing scheme whereby unipedal amputees could split a pair of shoes getting one each. Styles and colours limited.

* footnote - see what I did there!

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Uncle Ralph - Introduction

Some pay-it-forward for my nephews about their great uncle who they probably don't remember but one day may be curious about their gran's louche brother.

Following an industrial accident my uncle became a one-armed paperhanger as previously blogged. Whilst doing some genealogical research I realised that there were great gaps in my knowledge of his life story. He managed to live under the radar for much of his life in a shady demi-monde of cash-in-hand, so much so that he was once called in to the local HMRC office for a chat about the lack of income tax payments. He never bothered to register to vote so the electoral rolls provide no information on his whereabouts. 

Ralph at my parent's wedding, June 1951, age 20.

He was working as a mechanical engineer when he lost his right arm. I tried the Institute of Engineers but they had no record of him. I asked Mum (he was her younger brother by four years) where he did his apprenticeship or who he worked for. She had little recollection of her younger brother’s life. I believe he worked in a copper mine overseas; he had a copper ashtray that was supposedly a souvenir of that trip. Again, Mum didn’t know where or when. 

He was born on 7 June 1931 and died of a massive stroke on 4 February 1993 at the age of 61. He was too young to see active service in World War Two but he must have been old enough to be eligible for National Service. After Mum died I realised that I was officially Ralph’s next of kin and could apply for his service records and learn more – which I did and a little conjecture filled in the gaps.

After three years, Ralph’s army records finally came through. From which I learned that he did indeed do national service - basically two weeks army camp every year from ‘52 through to ‘55. It also records that he went to Rugby technical college and did a five-year apprenticeship with BTH Co Ltd, engineering (1948-1953).  That would be British Thomson-Houston.

I am guessing these were contemporaneous on some kind of day release.  I am under the impression that he spent some time in Rhodesia in a copper mine. Given BTH’s global reach, it could well have been with them. Did he continue working for them and was that who he was working for when he lost his arm in January 1965? He was one for the easy life so I can’t see him switching jobs.

There are many tales to tell which will follow...

Sunday, September 24, 2023

City Break - Esslingen

Esslingen, Germany. Friday/Monday, 22/25-September-2023.

We had a fantastic weekend in Esslingen near Stuttgart, a part of Germany that we knew nothing about. With huge thanks to Markus and Manuela for inspiring us to visit the area and giving up their time to act as great local guides.

We first met Markus and Manuela when they came to Salento parkrun whilst on holiday in Puglia. Markus is one of the Run Directors for Neckarufer, Esslingen parkrun and was encouraging people to visit. 

Mary had got out her spreadsheet earlier in the year and worked out a plan whereby we could complete our parkrun alphabet challenge (doing a parkrun starting with each letter of the alphabet, except X) plus Mary's 50th different parkrun location and Jetsetter (parkruns in five countries) all at the same time at Neckarufer!

In parkrun circles visiting 100 different locations is known as a Cowell (after the first person to complete the feat) and 50 events is a half Cowell (or Cow). Before the start Markus and Manuela presented Mary with appropriate bovine headband, and as you can see she already had the alphabet leggings.

After parkrun and breakfast with the locals at a nearby cafe it was back to the apartment for a shower and then some normal touristing with Markus and Manuela. The old town of Esslingen has many beautiful buildings, all so well preserved.

Apparently buildings were taxed on their floor area at ground level so each of the higher floors were built a bit bigger.

There is a huge long staircase that runs above the vineyards up to a mansion at the top and a view point. We, of course, had to climb all the stairs to the top of this hill.

View from the top looking over the vineyards to the Swabian Alps on the horizon.

Selfie at the top. This lovely tower had been used as a restaurant / venue but it is sadly currently vacant.

Back in the town, we had stopped for a beer when the furries arrived! We think they were there as general jollity as part of the cultural activities that were going on that weekend.

More furries! They seemed to be having fun and entertaining the children at the same time.

The river Neckar and its many tributaries and canals wind through the old town. This was one of the most decorated bridges with the imposing towers of the Stadtkirch in the background.

Ealry Sunday morning we visited the Stadtkirch which was simple without much in the way of decoration.

The organist was rehearsing early Sunday morning, possibly for a recital that was scheduled for that afternoon, so we sat for a while and got a free organ recital.

Our hosts took us to Tiefenhöhle, a fantastic set of bat caves where you go down and down very steep stairs. At the lowest point for visitors we were 40m underground although the cave continues at least another 40m below

There were regular information points with audio guides in different languages explaining the origin of the caves, the story of their discovery and what we were looking at geologically speaking.

After the caves we went Blautopf a local beauty spot where the water from the caves runs off into this blue pool and the start point for our walk.

The idyllic setting of the blue pool.

Our hosts then took us on a hike through gorgeous woodland paths to a hill top rock, a castle and a grotto. Mary's earworm at this point was 🎵 Where you lead, I will follow 🎵.

The path was mostly gently upwards through delightful deciduous woodland. My favourite kind of countryside.

It was a bit of a scramble but we just had to go right to the top of the rock.

View of Hohengerhausen castle from the rock. It looked pretty impregnable with very steep cliffs on most sides.

The views from the top of the castle were impressive.

Back down at valley level the last section back to the pool was alongside a stream with crystal clear water. Looking back up to the castle it made me realise quite how high up we'd been.

We look forward to returning the favour and acting as local guides for Markus and Manuela in the Lake District sometime.